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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)


ahirshahNAME: Ahir Shah 


COLLEGE: Clare College


I read PPS at Cambridge between 2009 and 2012, arriving in the aftermath of the financial crisis and then reentering the world on a wave of Gangnam Style. It is hard to tell which of these global upheavals that bookended my formative years had the greater impact on my personal and professional development.

The initial experience was, as I hope and am sure it is for everyone, an extremely daunting one. As a brown kid from a London state school, I had never seen so many bicycles, quads, or white people in my life. Any pretence that there would be a slow immersion was dispelled after Fresher's Week (which lasted four days), when my Director of Studies told me and the two men who would go on to become my closest friends that we had a couple of days to read Leviathan. The tome could not have been more intimidatingly titled.

The level of expectation remained daunting throughout my three years, but became alongside that motivating, exciting, invigorating. Looking back, I can't believe I was ever afforded the incalculable privilege of sitting in a supervision room, either individually or in a small group, with a world expert who would for an hour act like they weren't just opposite a kid blagging it as best they could, but rather a proper thinker who should be able to justify their positions at the highest intellectual level. I reckon that mixture of faith and expectation is what helps you go from the former to as close an approximation of the latter as you can be.

Those years of reading, thinking, arguing, conceding, learning, re-evaluating, felt gloriously like an end in themselves. With the increasing commercialisation and commodification of higher education, I worry this may not be the case for future cohorts in years to come. (Professor Thompson would tell me off for using the passive voice in that sentence. I might split an infinitive with an adverb later in this sentence, just to really annoy her. ...Nailed it.)

Studying PPS did not have a direct impact on my eventual career path. My ambitions to become an academic political philosopher lasted approximately one term in 2012, and dissipated just as quickly to my good fortune and that of the discipline at large. Instead, I became a stand-up comedian, because it seemed like the easiest way to get people to listen to my political ramblings would be to disguise them with jokes. The camouflage of entertainment is a fantastic way to trick people into suspending their critical faculties, as we have seen most prominently with the recent fate of the United States.

The lessons I learnt at Cambridge - of how to think, of what to think about - have, however, had an immeasurable impact on all aspects of my life. Professionally, I will always be indebted to the academics who helped me get better at working through thoughts and arguments, even if I've ended up peppering mine with more puns than they do. (They should really try it. You reach a wider audience.) Personally, I now have a solid theoretical and historical understanding of why both the American republic and the planet at large has reached a point of existential peril. This makes me tremendously fun at parties.

 Plus, as I said above, I met my best mates doing PPS. We ended up living together for a couple of years. We're gonna hang out on Wednesday. They make me laugh like a drain. Perfect.